Saturday 18 October 2014

Elephants Have Wings

Elephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $26.95
HB ISBN 978-1925000399
PB RRP $16.95
PB ISBN 978-1925000405
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

When writer Susanne Gervay and illustrator Anna Pignataro teamed up a couple of years ago to deliver the impeccable book Ships in the Field it was evident that their union was destined to bring deep thought on important topics to the picture book world. Their latest offering, Elephants Have Wing, cements them as a powerhouse duo, bringing something different to the page.

Elephants Have Wings, is a beautiful tale rich with the tapestries of ancient storytelling, spirituality and mythology. Placed in the Asian-Indian region, the book starts with two children asking their father to tell them the story – their grandfather’s story. The father commences, telling the wide-eyed children how their grandfather sent him and the other children out one night to look for “the secret”. All of the children saw different things and argued about who is right and who is wrong, until the grandfather came out and circled his light through the night, revealing a majestic elephant and showing that all the children were right but wrong at the same time.

The two children ask their father to tell them what their grandfather’s secret was, but he tells them that they must discover it themselves. The children spur each other on, willing on the vision of the elephant, who takes them on a journey through the air, over the wilderness, red desserts and snowy peaks, and through the sparkling stars to another place, high and faster and farther away. Bringing them home, only when the children have learnt their grandfather’s secret: “Everyone is different, but we’re the same, too. The elephant is in all of us.”

In many ways, this is a complicated picture book that explores rather esoteric themes, often difficult to articulate. What Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro do so well together, is bring these themes to life in a magical way that taps into children’s natural ability and openness to journey through the terrain of social inclusion, spirituality, unity, empathy and understanding. With roots in the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant, Elephants Have Wings is a wildly imaginative tale that is multifaceted. While younger children can lose themselves in the imaginative and magic journey of the children riding on the back of the elephant, older children can lose themselves in the mythology and modern importance of this tale.

And like Ships in the Field, Susanne has penned effortlessly poetic words that take us right through the sparkly stars with the children and Anne’s illustrations perfectly compliment this poeticism with pages of expressionistic watercolours and collages, whimsical in tone, that capture the peace, serenity and ethereal nature of this book.

A must read for those with a thirst for something different, unique and beautiful.

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